The Body Coach logs into Zoom from his dining room table, his trademark curly hair in a messy bun and AirPods in. You’d be mistaken for thinking that Joe Wicks was just your average Joe. “I am,” he insists, but that is far from the truth.
While the rest of us have been baking banana bread, bingeing on Bridgerton and singing sea shanties on TikTok, Joe Wicks has been busy building his empire - and it hasn’t been easy.
Back in March 2020, when the nation was first plunged into lockdown and schools were shuttered, the 34-year-old from Epsom, Surrey, stepped up to the mark, logging onto YouTube every school day at 9am to teach a live PE class.
The videos were a phenomenal success, racking up 80 million views, earning £580,000 in advertising revenue (which Wicks donated to NHS charities) and have since become one of the defining features of lockdown life – who hasn’t joined in at least once?
For Wicks – who shares children, Indie, two, and Marley, one, with wife, Rosie, 30 – the online classes firmly cemented his rise from fitness influencer to national treasure (he was even made an MBE in the Queen’s birthday honours list last October).
And all from a self-confessed “teenage tearaway” who started off handing out flyers for his personal training classes outside a train station.
“It’s mad. I used to be this tearaway kid growing up on a council estate and now I might be meeting the Queen,” he tells The Independent. “I’ve always been passionate about movement and exercise, but at first no one knew me at all.
“I just wanted to show people that exercising and eating well didn’t have to be a chore. Now I’m here, getting an invite to the palace. It feels nice to make my parents proud.”
There’s no doubt Wicks is a hard worker – he confesses that he’s already been up for a pre-sunrise workout before our meeting – but he also claims his success is, at least in part, down to his personality.
When he first launched his YouTube channel in 2014, the fitness guru quickly became known for his excitable bish-bash-bosh persona. The man who “whacks” ingredients into pans, “smashes” workouts in 15 minutes, never counts calories and does it all with a smile on his face.
It’s abundantly clear that Wicks is not just a likeable character, but actively likes to be liked. “I’d hate for someone to walk away from meeting me and think I wasn’t a nice guy,” he says.
“Of course I have days where I can't be bothered, but I can switch it on and be happy and friendly. Especially when I’m out and someone recognises me, I make a real effort to be smiley and nice. It only takes one minute to take a selfie with a fan and there’s nothing worse than meeting your idol and realising they’re rude or dismissive.”
In recent months the fitness guru has gone above and beyond to help his fans through difficult times. In January he revealed that some of his followers have even sent suicidal messages, and he spent time on the phone with one woman in an attempt to “talk her round a little bit”.
Most normal people might find that level of fame and notoriety emotionally draining, but not Wicks.
“I find talking to fans on social media helpful, not just for them but for me too,” he confesses. "I like being there for them and I miss hugging strangers. When things were normal people would always ask me for a hug or a selfie, or at book launches, I’d ask if they wanted a hug, but we can’t do that anymore.
“I need that connection and that interaction. I enjoy it. You don’t realise how important it is until it’s gone.”
Fit, funny and phenomenally successful, Wicks is certainly gregariously confident, but the fitness guru is far from arrogant. Despite being worth an estimated £14.5m, Wicks is more than happy to lean into his average Joe persona.
When we ask about his skills in the kitchen, he quickly confesses that he’s a “terrible cook” (the understatement of the year, given that his Lean in 15 cookbooks have sold more than any other weight loss title since records began).
“I’ve just been lucky with my personal training and my personality, but I’m honestly a rubbish cook. I’ve only just learnt how to make pasta,” he adds.
We were impressed but, again, Wicks backs away from the glory. “It’s so easy, I promise you. It’s literally just flour and egg, then you cut it into little shapes and I stuff it with cream cheese or veg. Then you’re done."
A fountain of relentless positivity, when we attempt to draw Wicks into a conversation about how bleak lockdown 3.0 is he quickly insists he “doesn’t watch the news”.
It’s the only time a crack appears in his otherwise seamlessly happy armour. Though it’s no secret that Wicks has, like everyone else, struggled with lockdown.
In January, Wicks fought back tears in an Instagram video following Boris Johnson’s lockdown address.
Speaking to his four million followers, Wicks said: "I feel really sad, I feel really emotional for the first time I think … I just want someone to talk to, to be honest, I just want to talk to you to see how you're all feeling. I know there's a vaccine but it just feels so far away still...
“I don't have depression, I don't have anxiety but right now I feel so low and so down and I know it's a temporary thing.”
Nearly one month later, Wicks admits he is starting to feel more hopeful. “Things are going to get better. I’ve got to believe that otherwise it’s too much,” he says.
“I try to focus on the good things I’ve got going on, like spending time with my family, cooking, exercising...”
Similar to the rest of us, Wicks is counting down the days until normality returns, which is why it comes as no surprise that he’s eagerly awaiting his vaccine invite.
“I’m nervous about it but I’m not an anti-vaxxer," he admits. “I’ll get it in my arm, in my bum, wherever they want to put it as long as it means I can see my nan.”
Until then, what does Wick’s have planned for the remainder of lockdown? More work, of course.
“The Body Coach app is out now and I’m hoping to build my fanbase in America and Australia at some point. For now I’ll carry on PE with Joe until the schools reopen," he adds. “It’s a big responsibility and it’s physically tiring, but I’m immensely proud of what I’m doing and that motivates me. It validates me and gives me structure too. I can’t stop, not when so many people are relying on me.”
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